Thursday, 6 June 2013

Flaming June

Well, the flame trees here have been stunning this year, bright red and beautiful.

I hope very much my UK followers are also having a well-deserved flaming June. I apologise for not writing recently but work and play has overtaken my desire to write too much.
Have been off to the dentist a couple of times now - never expected better treatment here than at home!


I am now at the end of the first quarters work and am reviewing the progress made. The people I work with are very pleasing but are not sure what to do with me. They have never had an adviser before let alone a western volunteer and it is all a bit much for them. They answer my questions but rarely allow me insight into their work. Having to go through a translator means discussion is slow as you have to make sure he understands before he translates and puts the question to my colleagues. I have begun some training on analysis of school statistics and data management, I have forged relationships with other NGOs to form an education network in Kampot and the highlight of the work so far has been a day out with colleagues to a very far away district where we had to have breakfast and lunch out. How can they eat so much and be so thin?  6 or 7 giant spoons of rice at each meal is normal. When we arrived the school put on a performance of traditional dance to welcome us which was so graceful and perfect.


The Scout Day was held on the hottest day of the year! All part of the education programme in Cambodia for high school students.


We have finally found a few friends here who are volunteers like us,3 US Peace Corps, 3 Koreans, 3 from Japan, 1 Australian and 1 elderly women in her 70s from the UK. We meet every Tuesday for a beer and a catch up in one of the riverfront bars. We have taken the motos to the Sihanoukville for a long weekend twice (this is the local Blackpool and sadly filled with loads of old, geeky looking European men and young Khymei women partners. A shame, as the town and beaches are quite nice. Usually, at the weekend we go to the nearest beach for a swim, and we have had lots of visitors to stay which has been good. Not being so remote has many advantages. I had a really nice weekend a while ago in Phnom Penh with good friends, Ashley, Ali, Anna and Andy. To even things up a little Anna christened me Abby for the evening, actually I felt more like an Alice!
Workers in the salt fields of Kampot.




Our house is more homely now and we have got used to living in the town. I can cycle to work in 3 minutes and 5 minutes to the riverfront. Dave is back to the UK at the beginning of July for 2 months. It will be interesting to see how I cope on my own. Hope I do not like it too much!

Mobile butcher arriving at the house next door- taken from the upstairs balcony.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

New job, new province, new home (not yet). February 2013.

We had a super time in the UK staying with family and friends. But after six weeks it was time to return.
This time when we landed in Cambodia there were no friendly VSO faces to greet us,we were deemed old hands and could arrange our own working visas. Although I was anxious it did all workout and all our paperwork was accepted.
After 5 nights in Phnom Penh during which we had time to catch up with friends and I had meetings with UNICEF and VSO it was time to move on to a new province in the south.
We travelled from PP to Kampot with all our luggage plus my motorbike and a bicycle on a mini bus with 21 other people, 2 babies and a dog plus all their stuff!! Luckily this time our journey was much shorter, only 3 hours.
Arriving in fairly cool and wet conditions seemed rather strange at this time of the year, but was also very refreshing. We now have a week to find a home before I start work on the 4 March. It has not been easy. The first 2 days we looked at places far worse than our shed at home. Yesterday we saw a really nice place for the first time but it was 5 times more than the VSO housing allowance. We also saw a just OK place within the price range,  but with a very basic bathroom with no flush toilet or hand basin. It was big, we would be upstairs, and the whole of downstairs would be ours too and therefore empty. Bit scary coming home on my own in the dark, I think, but we may have to have it.
It is hotter here, more touristy, and all be more expensive to live. But we knew all that.
Water Buffalo having a snooze about 8k from Kampot town.

Sitting on the river front having a beer and watching the fishermen leave for the evening catch.
The salt fields just a few kiolometres away - working in 37C
Beautiful bird song all over Kampot. But just realised that the sound is on a looped recorder to entice the birds to nest at the top of many buildings here. Big business in Birds Nest Soup!!
And finally, the end of our non-productive house hunting days are always improved by watching the glorious sunsets over the river.
I will keep you posted as soon as I find a home and begin work, which should be March 4th 2013.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Final months are creeping up!

Travels and Tribulations.

Finally we are at the end of the placement and although we knew it was coming it seems to have not crept up but stamped up far too fast.

Although there are so many problems with this country and trying to build capacity is an uphill struggle all the time we have grown to love the pace of life, the endless sunshine, the cash only way of life and the happy people.

The last three months have gone far too fast and the last two will no doubt seem like next week before too long. Because I seem to have been rather lax about writing this blog recently I think the best thing to do is to regale you with the highlights and low lights of the last three months.


My education skills were put to rest this month as I became a contractor and spent my time hiring builders and carpenters to construct toilets for girls in my target schools.

Narin my translator was off sick for over two weeks which was quite challenging with so much to do. I also spent one day training teachers in a very remote indigenous school about interactive methodology for grades 1,2 and 3 which was good fun. David came too and did a couple of sports session and Anna my VSO colleague who luckily is a maths whizz.
However, the highlight of august was our trip to Battambang with other good friends from VSO to sample the tourist life: we made a vow to stick to Western food for our 3 days and it was so good. The bamboo train was great fun but my highlight was seeing the 14million (who counted)? bats stream out of the cave by the temple at dusk. It was such a good weekend being all together.



This month I completed school development planning workshops in target schools and also training for 46 grade 4 teachers in introductory English. As many of our teachers do not have Khymei as their first language and now introducing a third was very difficult for them. Not sure if Ratankiri is ready for this yet? Work has been very busy as I also supported school enrolment campaigns this month which I wrote about last year so enough of that.

Highlight this month was back to Kampong Cham with all the volunteers left for the final few months for a good memories weekend. It was a very special time which included buying a bottle of gin and having a great reminisce over the good and bad times in the past two years in Kath’s bedroom (she was the only one of us with a/c).


The new school year began with a flourish of very long and very boring school opening ceremonies which were not very child friendly. 2/3 hours of speeches in the hot sun and children from 3 to 17+ standing in lines!

16 days of the Pchum Benh festival was a great trial to us as the monks begin chanting at 4am every morning and go on all day finishing with “speed praying” at high volume at 10pm.

Although the Wat is quite a distance from us the sound travels so much and is so loud. We missed the last few days which is also public holiday time by finally making it to Angkor Wat. 8 days of holiday and 4 travelling but it was worth everything. The temples are on a very grand scale and magnificent. We got up at 4.30 am so we could see the sun rise over Angkor Wat and visited so many until we were templed out by 5pm. Our journey back to the hotel was hampered by the sad news of the Kings father dying in China where he had gone for treatment. Many people were travelling to the temples that afternoon in tribute to the King.

So now we are back home in Banlung but still hearing the temple music and the monks praying and respecting the dead King. National mourning is 7 days, the King will lie in state for 3 months and the next ceremonies will be in January and we will be gone from here.

I am very excited as Dave, Anna and I are off on Saturday to Laos and a motorbike trip around the Bolaven Plateau. That will be the essence of my next entry for you all.

PS. I have just spent 4 hours trying to upload more photos and just cannot do it as the internet is so slow. Sorry folks. 


Thursday, 2 August 2012

Education progress is slow but nevertheless it is progress.

This month has been very busy with work projects. With my colleagues from 6 other provinces I have been to Phnom Penh to be trained how to teach English to grade 4 pupils. VSO will now deliver the training to 40 grade 4 teachers in Ratanakiri and they teach their students. It is a very simple but well written course devised by a  VSO volunteer (from the UK)  working in Phnom Penh at the Department of Curriculum Development. Of course delivering the training is easy for an old hand like me. Follow up in the schools is going to be the complicated issue plus the little detail that no teachers here can speak any English! I will keep you posted on the progress.

I am also working with another NGO CARE to help them deliver training on managing libraries in the communities.
Krola Village in O Chum District-the newly built Library.
Yesterday, when I went to visit the village I was expecting the library to be finished and ready for the fixtures and fittings. There is still work to be done on the floor and to make it rodent and bird safe.
At first I was concerned about the training but after meeting the community and seeing the library I realise very basic management techniques are required and most people from the developed world could do this.

We have had a problem in Cambodia with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease in many provinces and the government took action and closed all the schools two weeks early, this was against WHO advice. So many of my activities which needed to end the school year are not completed. This means extra work in September and October before I can begin the new year activities. There are many rumours going around the communities embellishing the problems of HFMD and many people are very, very worried. As there are no newspapers reaching Ratanakiri, and many people are illiterate people rely heavily on the television and the radio for news. Many of the communities do not have good access to electricity or to television and rumour is spread very quickly. The majority of the communites will have one television set which is usually in the Chief's house and this is run by a generator which of course costs money they do not have. So maybe an hour a night the television is on and all the families will gather in the one house to watch. Here it is also very easy to hire a camera man to film your occasion and have it on TV the next night for a grand sum of $25. I have used this many times for campaigns such as gender equality, school enrolment, etc. It is very strange to see yourself and others after the event.

Friday, 8 June 2012

June 2012

I find photographs very hard to upload as the Internet here is so slow, so this week I have persevered to give you a few from the last month or so.
Everything possible and impossible is transported by motorbike and taken to all the outlying villages for sale. here as you can see is "Basket Man".

Last week my good friend  left BanLung to return to her homeland Holland. Here we are having a last day out together on our motos and a picnic organised by Narin - we had beer and jackfruit jellies! Note the rubbish behind us was not ours.

Well, Narin and Maroesjka travelled by Moto, I decided to take the safer vehicle. Here we have yet another plantation of young rubber trees in the background. So much land has been taken over the past year and put to rubber, very little of it legally I imagine.

In May we went to the beach at Sihanoukville for 4 nights courtesy of public holidays due to the Kings Birthday. It was cloudy but very warm. we really like just being by the sea. Here we are sampling the delights of draught beer at 50 cents each and waiting for our food. BBQ is served on the beach every evening for $3 and its really good. 

 We are of course having a real adventure but also working hard too. Dave has been very busy this month running sports days. In the heat and with the children having to come to the location by motorbike (3 on a bike) as the mini buses cannot get to remote villages. Its has been a logistical nightmare, breakfast and lunch also has to be provided as well as snacks and water.
My work has been severely hampered by the national Commune Council elections which has meant the schools have been shut for 2 weeks. Not sure why except that many teachers were hired to help run the elections. Today, I have completed a school inspection. The school was at least fairly clean but the grade 1 teaching was abysmal. Rote learning and no resources. No wonder only 26 of the 65 students on roll were present. I have had to cancel many of my planned activities this month and hope to catch up in July. But I expect that many schools will not get back to full capacity before the holidays begin at the end of July.  At present I find it hard to grumble too much about their lack of motivation as I am told teachers have not been paid for 3 months!
We leave for the UK to visit the Lake District to be at my nephews wedding, we can't wait to catch up with many of the family again. Richard and Hayley definitely deserve a great day with those family and friends who will be present.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr. One weekend in May = heat, little work and lots of noise.

Well, much as I love it here this weekend the heat and the noise have really irritated me. Coupled with the fact that the schools are still not fully functioning after their two week break which finished on April 20th! So work has been frustratingly slow and very hard to see people and make plans about our new activities and budgets for the next 12 months.

Friday had been very hot at work – it’s not always the temperature but the high levels of humidity which is so incredibly sweat inducing. We went home at 5pm to find our neighbours had erected a huge speaker on their house but directed straight at ours. For a family ceremony which involved monks chanting and distorted music at a rate of at least 70 decibels! So we had a quick shower and change and go out to meet the other ex-pats at 6pm at the local KFC. Khymer fried chicken and rice for less than $2. The best chicken in town because you get a really crispy coating and a tiny piece of white meat. There was a good crowd and we had a good time for a couple of hours until the wind got up and the most tremendous thunder and lightning and severe rainstorm stopped the electricity and us getting home. At 8.30pm we had had enough, had moved away from the table, sitting in a huddle getting closer and closer trying to escape the showers through the tarpaulin roof and sides of our eaterie. It was getting cooler and the rain had eased so we decided to make our exit plans, some walking, some cycling and we on our moto. Luckily we only had 2k to travel as the flooded roads and the storm meant we should not have been on the road. But we arrived home drenched but safe. Only to find the speakers were still on through the rain and the loud roar of old, poorly maintained generators was coming from all directions. So bed at 9pm in the dark with heavy rain pouring through some of the windows and ear plugs in!

We woke at 5.30 am because of the loud noises coming from the speakers fired by the generator and sore ears from the plugs. Which do not drown out all the noise. Still no elec, so went to the market and made a salad and went to the lake to meet friends and go swimming. Stayed out till 6pm when the light was failing-still no elec. So cooked a meal by candlelight, had a bucket wash and went to bed with the roar of generators again.

Sunday and still no elec. all day, so back to the lake which is so beautiful and cool when you are in the water and spent the afternoon playing board games and talking with another English girl from Sunderland. I cooked in the dark again using up as much of food in the fridge as possible and more bucket showers being careful with the water as we need elec. to pump the water from the well.

Another early night with my ear plugs but sometime in the night the elec. came on. However, as soon as everyone was getting up and about it went off again. There is never an explanation. My theory is there is just not enough to go round so when it is hot we are rationed.

Off to work at 7.30on Monday to find no-one else at work and no elec. here either. No elec. means no fan to make work a little more bearable. Is it a public holiday? On Saturday it was Visakha Bucha day which is a Buddhist special day – that must mean all the people I work with have taken Monday off, but the schools seem to be open? Who knows here? We do have Wednesday off for Royal Ploughing Day and 3 days next week for the Kings Birthday. David and I are off 800k south from here to Sihanoukville to the seaside for 4 nights. We think we can do this in one day going but estimate it will take 17 hours by bus. Coming back it has to be 2 days with a stopover in Phnom Penh.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The road to civilsation.

March 17th 2012

The journey to the next town -Stung Treng is 120k from BanLung and here you can join National Route 7 the paved road to Phnom Penh which is still 500k south. When we arrived 18 months ago this last dirt road part of the journey was the killer. Horrendously bumpy and so dusty that it prevented many people from travelling to this beautiful province in the north east of Cambodia.
Last year work began on improving the road and access over the Sre Pok river (famous for the river scenes filming in Apocalypse Now). The road was widened, many bridges have been built by the Chinese who have an agreement with the Government here and in one section a new road was built.
Little by little sections have been opened cutting the time from over 4 hours to 3.Having a flat tarmac surface is so good.
Last weekend we travelled to Stung Treng on our motorbikes to spend the last weekend with our Dutch friends who have completed their placement and return to Holland on April 1st.

We packed a few clothes and Dave tied them behind his seat to save them getting too dusty and I just had a few tools to carry. We left at 7.30am on the Saturday and  hoped we had missed all the mini buses hurtling to PP at high speed  creating vast plumes of dust.

The first part of the journey leads out of town and past the Pagoda and the houses where the monks live, then past the new bus station which is not quite finished and then through hectares of rubber trees and past 2 schools which I work in, Both open which was good. Then maybe 40 k to the first stop. Both sides of the road are complete but for an unfathomable reason only one side is open! We travel through the district of Koun Mon and its getting very rural. Ox carts and water buffalo as well as untethered cows to look out for and children playing chicken when you least expect it.

We have a quick stop to stretch my fingers, for some reason I get terrible "pins and needles" on bumpy roads. We turn onto the very new stretch of road and its all finished. Hooray, so an easy ride through the teak trees and the now open countryside where the trees have all been logged and ready for more rubber trees to be planted. After 12k we stop again to look at the river from the top of the new bridge then on again. This time only one side of the road is complete so we travel as far as we can with all traffic using just one side of the road. remember the rule of the road is the larger the vehicle the more right to the road you have so we are always forced to the side when traffic is coming from either way.Then we eventually have to get on the dirt side. Only its very worn and big stones appear to trip you up or with heavy traffic use the surface in some places becomes corrugated and it shakes you to pieces. Eventually we come to one side which has been complete but traffic not allowd yet and prevented by places large tree branches from one side to the other. We find a way to get on and then spend an hour doing a slalem course to get round the trees. (I knew there must be a reason for the slalem on motorbike training in the UK). We alternate between good road but slalem and dirt bumpy, dusty roads until like a mirage we eventually see the advertising boards which mean we have reached O Pong Mon. Its like a motorway stop but of shacks and plastic chairs and poor food in the middle of a road triangle where three roads join.We stop for a very wecome iced coffee at $0.5 each and buy a pineapple for our hosts.

The final part 12k is easey peasey. We only have to dodge the 1 metre rows of drying cassava on both edges of the road and passing the lorries loaded up so much they can only go at 25k per hour. Finally, 3 hours later we get to Stung Treng- just for a second I do not look at the road, was going too fast, hit a large pot hole and the pineapple and the tool bag flew out and landed in the midst of on coming traffic.
Luckily no damage and the pineapple was very sweet!!